I woke up this past Saturday morning with absolutely no plans for my weekend, but after a quick perusal of my Facebook feed, the circumstances changed dramatically. The Thermals posted a flyer for a show they were doing that night at Level B, having decided to make the trip from Portland down to the Capital City to bless us with their presence. So with the choice now between “doing nothing” and venturing downtown to see one of my favorite bands play an intimate show in my hometown, I easily decided to go with the latter. Despite a rather sparse showing from my fellow Salemites, the band did their usual excellent work and hopefully had as great a time as I did.
Since this is the third time we’ve covered a Thermals show in a year*, we’re not going to spend too much time discussing the intricacies of their set. The band focused mainly on their most recent album, sprinkling several cuts from Desperate Ground throughout the set, while making sure to cover crowd-favorites from their classic The Body, The Blood, The Machine; a personal highlight was hearing “Power Lies” from the underrated Personal Life make an appearance. The group has been hard at work writing material for a new album, and I’m glad to say that it looks like there was good reason that I had trouble recognizing a couple of songs, since the setlist confirms new tracks “The Walls” and “I Will Find My Way”. The new songs definitely did not represent any drastic change in style, and instead fit naturally into the band’s set, which should provide comfort for their fans.
Throughout the show, a reel of “Betty Boop” cartoons was shown by a projector behind the band, seemingly selected at random. The resulting juxtaposition provided a couple of noteworthy moments**, the highlight being that an Alice in Wonderland-themed episode appeared as the band played their cover of “White Rabbit” in an alarming moment of synchronicity, something that which Hutch himself remarked and Kathy noticed as well. Though the crowd was not nearly as raucous as they were the last time The Thermals came through town, we were able to convince the band to indulge us with old favorites “Overgrown, Overblown!” and “No Culture Icons” for a mini-encore. After the show, it was great to see Hutch and Kathy and Westin hang out with the crowd and appear sincerely grateful for those that turned up; hopefully the band will make this a regular gig, though it may help to do a bit more advance notice for a Salem gig.
As for the openers, they represented both the old and the new of the Salem scene. Years (the young folks) performed a set of catchy 90’s-era punk with what I assume is some heavy influence from Pavement, while City of Pieces (the old folks) taught the crowd some lessons on the classics, with a style that was reminiscent of The Cramps with their tinge of psychobilly. Years could use some seasoning, not necessarily to brush up their chops but to work on their songcraft a bit, yet they probably have a bright future ahead of them. However, City of Pieces was a blast, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of their sets around town, as their presence assures that it will be a fun night.
*Not only did we see The Thermals play Level B last year, but they were also part of the extensive Project Pabst lineup.
**The selection of cartoons included a rather racist episode made things uncomfortable for those paying attention (though the band was thankfully too busy to notice).